The Swiss pianist and his fellow band members – Thomas Lahns on bass and Lionel Freidli on drums for all but two tracks (Kevin Chesham for those) – start off this album with a piece that could easily be taken for an E.S.T. number. It shares the left hand riff and rhythmic push, as well as the momentary pause in the beat, of some of that iconic band’s concert favourites. It’s a good way to draw the listener in to music that from track two onwards takes on a much more distinctively original sound.
Rhythm is clearly at the heart of Stiefel’s music, and the juxtaposition of the three instruments often feels like three differently patterned stencils sliding and switching beneath one another, offering constantly fresh patterns and shapes to emerge. Stiefel uses the word Isorhythm in many of his titles, and apparently it’s a compositional concept from the middle ages where “melodic and accompanying parts do not have to follow each other”.
So while Isorhythm 4 is a pretty opener, track three, Isorhythm 2.2 is much more representative of the band’s sound and, I suspect, of the excitement of an Inner Language Trio gig. Stiefel is as much a drummer here with his stabbed chords as Chesham is on the kit.
The band can be lyrical and rhapsodic as evidenced by Waltz For Nina, although at other times – the first four minutes of Olympus Mons, for example – it can sound like three men trying to exhaust each other in a physical work-out.
Overall, this is a very strong performance with all the right highs and lows, surges and retreats, in the sequence of pieces. The band should be most impressive in live performance, and you can experience just that in the next couple of weeks.
The Christoph Stiefel Inner Language Trio, with Arne Huber on bass and Kevin Chesham on drums, plays the following dates:
9 Oct – Pizza Express Jazz Club, London
10 Oct – Zeffirelli’s, Ambleside
11 Oct – Lit & Phil, Newcastle
12 Oct – Flavel, Dartmouth
14 Nov – St James’s Piccadilly, part of London Jazz Festival.
Here is a taste: